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Monday, March 1, 2010

The Risks of Diving

As part of my ongoing Dive training, I regularly read up on Scuba Diving accidents and incidents. The website Scubaboard has a forum devoted to talking about and researching these accidents. Is this morbid? Not really. Most of the time, it's used as a reminder of what can happen diving, and how this is a serious sport which has some very serious risks involved.

Last week, I came across the information about EG, who died on the Galapagos Aggressor II on February 12. One of her fellow divers recounted the incident on his blog (read it here). He went into great detail. His wife is Kimberly, and the deceased buddy is Denise. The divemaster on the dive was named Patricio.
As soon as I was in, I located Kimberly and we gave each other the "OK" sign. I cleared my mask and rearranged my hood which was causing water to leak into my mask. Patricio and others were +/- 20 feet below and moving away. I am usually slower than most to equalize on early dives, so Kimberly and I were behind most of the group from the start but were descending much quicker than my usual in order to stay with the group being lead by Patricio. I do not know where E.G. was at that time. I was focused on descending safely and keeping close to my buddy, Kimberly.
On the descent, Patricio was always lower and further out from the island than Kimberly and me. I was surprised when Patricio led us past 90 feet due to Jamie's previous instruction. At some point I remember struggling greatly against the current. My best estimate is that it was around the 3-5 minute mark based my computer's information. I was near hyper-ventilating and had to consciously slow myself down. I could see from Kimberly's body language that she was struggling as well. At about the nine minute mark, Patricio was closer to the island and was signaling to us to grab hold of the sloping bottom and hand over hand move up against the current. Kimberly and I were struggling against the current and neither of us had gotten comfortable in the water yet.
Kimberly said that during the time she was struggling, at the 3-7 minute mark, was the last time she saw E.G. who had been just behind her, toward deeper water. Neither of us remember seeing E.G. or Denise grabbing onto the sloping bottom. It is Kimberly's recollection that Denise was in front of her and me, while E.G. was behind Kimberly.
When Kimberly and I got control by hanging onto the rocks and moderating our breathing (about 10-15 minute mark based upon my dive computer), I started looking around to see where everyone else was. I didn't see E.G. Kimberly and I were well under 2000 psi of air at this point, which is a lot of air to have used so quickly.
Read the full account if you are interested, it is quite a scary tale.

What really gets me about this story is how similar it seems to the experience that Todd and I had in Kona at Never Never Land. Neither of us panicked, although we were both stressed. We did, however, end up in a current that we were not prepared for, and we were separated.

In the end, EG was found much later, four hours after descending. She was on the bottom in 168 feet of water, with no mask, regulator out of her mouth and 2000 PSI left in her tank. No one will really know what exactly happened, but one can speculate that she panicked for some reason (missing mask is a sign of panic). She might even have panicked because she lost her mask. The current was strong, and she was not prepared.

It's difficult to say what might have helped EG to survive this. The original author seems to point towards the divemaster not giving a specific enough briefing or not paying enough attention, or something else at fault with the Aggressor. I tend to disagree. Some ideas of mine:
  • EG hadn't dove in about 10 months (as stated here by Keith). While most organizations recommend only taking a scuba refresher course after 12 months of not diving, I would figure that you'd want to do a few dives in a much shorter period of time if you are going to somewhere as advanced as the Galapagos (Bonaire or somewhere more calm would be a much different story).
  • Denise (EG's buddy), stated here that EG was using a brand new Dive computer, and had to ask someone else on the boat for assistance in figuring out how to use it. With new equipment, you should always know how to use it before you get into open water with it. They come with instruction manuals, and you can dive in a local pool to test it out. I can't imagine going to the Galapagos with a new dive computer not knowing how to use it. Talk about unprepared.
  • Denise also stated that EG was trailing behind her, that she was uncomfortable with this, and talked to EG about it. EG still continued to trail behind. I have to admit, Todd and I have spoken about this after Kona, and we have an agreement that we will hold hands or lock arms in a strong current. At a minimum, we would be side by side.
  • Panic is a horrible thing. Even at 168 feet, it is reasonable to think that EG should not have died, as long as she had air in her tank. She had plenty of air. She might have gotten narc'd or pushed down in a down current, but who knows. It is so important to not panic, and that is something that you can get from experience and from preparing better for your dives.
I'm not sure that 50 dives is enough to be prepared for the Galapagos, but that also depends a lot on where you've been diving for those 50 dives. If they were all in Bonaire and Little Cayman (as my first 50 dives were), then probably not. However, if they were in the Atlantic or Pacific or more advanced dives, then maybe.

The thing with the Galapagos is that it is colder than other places, requiring what is pretty thick wetsuit to most (7mm). This creates a weighting difficulty for those who may not regularly dive in a 7mm. Frankly, diving a 7mm wetsuit is uncomfortable and bulky, but it keeps you warm. I dive with 20 pounds of weight in a 7mm, when I only dive with 8 pounds in my 1mm suit. These two scenarios feel totally different.

In the end, this was a horrible lesson for lots of divers thinking of getting in over their head with a more challenging diving experience. This same thing could have happened to hundreds of other divers, and they all might have surfaced safely, but clearly something different happened here with EG. It is a shame that it happened and my condolences go out to her family. What a tradgedy.


Lacey said...

i am a scaredy cat and would probably never go diving. i am scared of a lot of things (skydiving, flying in a plane in general, roller coasters, heights)... hehe. but really i do hate being underwater. i will have to just look at pictures :)

Zuri said...

The Galapagos Islands are the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land and sea animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else.

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